Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers

Matchstick Rockets

Posted on: May 29, 2008

This is a favorite of the students. After studying Newton’s Laws of motion, we spend a day making rockets from paper match sticks. The process is simple, tear out a paper match, cover the top with a small piece of tightly wrapped aluminum foil, heat the match with a lighter and watch it launch.

Students will typically make at least three of these in a class period. Most go no more than an inch or two, many doing that backwards. Last year one match went 26 feet. This year, I believe the record was 18 feet. Credit goes to Richard White for sending me this last year.

The directions call for making the exhaust tube with a paperclip. That hasn’t worked well for us, the hole is too big. I’ve seen other directions that use a pin. I haven’t tried it with a pin, but I’d like to. In class, we simply wrap the tip tight and count on the gases finding their own exit.


Note: This is an outside activity unless you have a really well ventilated lab, which I don’t. Also, spend $5 on a BernzOmatic lighter. You can get it from Walmart. Aim for a day with very little wind otherwise you will have a hard time keeping the rockets on their launcher and even harder time getting them lit.

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